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Sas, S.A. (1992). Ambiguity as the Route to Shame. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 73:329-341.

(1992). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 73:329-341

Ambiguity as the Route to Shame

Silvia Amati Sas


In patients who have been exposed to extreme conditions, shame is connected with a dilemma of identity: it is indicative of the patient's conflict over his alienation, his adaptation to and familiarization with the conditions offered by an unacceptable frame.

Bleger's (1967) theoretical model, with the concepts of the symbiotic link, ambiguity and the ambiguous position (which precedes the classical Kleinian positions), dynamically combines the problem of the frame or context with that of the capacity of discrimination between the ego and its objects. Ambiguity is characterized by the adaptability, malleability, permeability and non-conflictuality which it confers on the personality. Shame appears as an alarm signal concerning ambiguity, connected with the ego's need to maintain its internal conflictuality, its capacity for integration and its sense of continuity.

Experiences of dependence and passivity, or ones which touch upon the dilemma between true and false, private and public, ethics and aesthetics, etc., may give rise to feelings of shame. In this paper it is suggested that a common denominator for the many different factors of shame may be found in the dynamics of ambiguity.

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